Friday, August 20, 2010

Day 134: Mind the gap

I could spend hours, literally, looking at a map - the famous one of the London Underground designed by Harry Beck, an Underground employee, in 1931 - and I have done, look here’s the proof.

If I were a trainee line manager and they were going to give me one of the coloured networks to manage, I wistfully imagine that they’d more than likely start me off with the Jubilee Line (silver)
- fewest stations, pretty straightforwrad: from Stratford in the East, South across the Thames via Canada Wharf (sounds like something out of a Rudyard Kipling novel) on to Waterloo, then back across the Thames and up to Stanmore in the North-West. No tricks or turns or side lines and just the 28 stops. I know this and not because someone in authority has told me, I just worked it out for myself via the many idle moments that I’ve spent studying “the map”.

The dream is that they’d eventually reward me with the District Line (green) one day: with branch lines down to Wimbledon and Richmond, off up to Edgware Road and the very Chigley’esque little excursion to Olympia, it’s the most complicated of them all. If only they hadn’t struck off the Aldwych, but then there’s something spookily attractive about the fact that there’s this deserted underground station with platforms and tracks but no passengers or trains, not even a ghost train. Subterranean London is littered with abandoned and disused stations, just like the one that once was the British Museum stop between Tottenham Court Road and Holborn on the Central Line. Every time I take that trip, I press my face against the windows and peer out into the darkness, hoping to catch a glimpse of this Mary Celeste of a tube station as we whistle past; I wonder if one day I will see it and perhaps the spectre of a lone undead commuter, the ghost of a long-dead ‘jumper’, standing on the platform, briefcase in hand, waiting, waiting, waiting......?

I like the colours of the map. For me, that light brown hue of the Bakerloo Line, defines it, it makes some sort of visual sense, speaks of the line’s very character. So singular is that shade of brown that I think the good people at Dulux should add a swatch of “Bakerloo Brown” to their colour chart. And just who or what is a “Bakerloo”? Actually, it’s not a “who”, it’s a “what”, two “whats” in fact; when the line first opened in 1906 it ran from BAKER Street as it’s northern terminus, to WaterLOO at the southern end. ‘Baker’ + ‘loo’, simple, huh or duh?

Of course it makes total sense, to me, that the Northern line is black; just think about your experiences (if you’ve ever had them) from Mordern to Mornington Crescent and Euston. Of course it’s black; there’s something very murky, grubby, smokey and dark about this line that carries 206,734,000 passengers a year (the higest amount of any of the lines). Not convinced about it’s designated colour being black? Then try to imagine it as Gold. See what I mean, doesn’t work does it?

I want to go to places in the outer far-flung corners of Zones 5 & 6 of Beck’s map: Cockfosters, High Barnet, Upminster. Now you may well be very familiar with these locations and can’t possibly understand why I may find them so exotic - that’s because they only exist on a map for me; never been there and probably never going, a bit like Paraguay. But the map romances Greater London for me. I look for excuses to travel on the Metropolitan Line and why oh why did they get rid of the old carriages and rolling stock?

I had what I thought was a genius of an idea a few years ago. They were calling for suggestions for the disused edifice that is Battersea Power Station, having sat so long, alone and vacant on the South bank of the Thames. I had the solution: why not use the massive massive space inside to create a scale 3-D railway model of the complete London Underground System. Not just on one flat level, but at all the differing depths underneath the capital that the ten or more lines run at? It would be such a gargantuan structure with carriages and wotnot zooming everywhere?! Maybe I should stop there, I’m getting a little giddy at the thought.

But it’s the map, always the map, it calls to me.

Day #134 Tip: Map out your plotting
The antedote to yesterday’s piece about allowing ourselves to be capricious enough to follow where our writing leads us, is this article today about maps and plans and structures so that we know exactly where we’re going. Such contradictory information??!!

At this stage of the screenplay - 134 days/four and a half months - the Treatment is my map, detailing every one of the 40-60 scenes or movie moments over forty, fifty, sixty pages or more. Prior to the Treatment there was the Step Outline, created from the Index Cards. Not so much at the treatment stage but definitely with the cards or the outline, I’ve often found a way to colour code the plots and main characters, in order to get a quick visual image of the ebb and flow of the work.

Just like looking at the map of the Underground, a colour-coded schematic plan of my script structure can SHOW me how many scenes the protagonist is in, when he or she appears, when he or she is absent and for how long. It’s very apparent when the protagonist has maybe been away from the story too long and that helps me decide if I can, and need to move things around to fix that.

I’ll type up one version of the Step Outline in different colours: red for the Central Plot, blue for subplot #1 (the protagonist’s Redemption Plot), green for subplot #2 (the Love Story) and black for subplot #3, whatever that might be. I can do the same thing again at the treatment stage and as I say, it gives me a very clear image of when a character or plot has been out of the picture too long (please forgive the pun). It’ll highlight any glaringly obvious gaps for me.

At all costs, we must mind the gaps, just stand at Embankment station long enough and you'll be well aware of that.

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